Barristers who use social media inappropriately will face disciplinary action even if they believe they are doing so in their private capacity, the Bar Standards Board has warned.
In newly issued guidance, the regulator also advised barristers to avoid getting drawn into “heated debates or arguments” online.
The extent to which regulators should sanction lawyers’ actions in their private lives has been a live issue of late, such as in the case of a senior finance partner at City giant Hogan Lovells rebuked for discriminating against his children’s pregnant nanny.
Meanwhile, a Bar disciplinary tribunal recently rejected an unregistered (ie non-practising) barrister’s argument that a “seriously offensive” tweet he sent was entirely unrelated to his professional role as a barrister and it was not the BSB’s role to police his private life.
The tribunal said anyone clicking on his name on the tweet was taken to his website, which stated that he was a barrister.
The guidance made clear that it applied to barristers in both a professional and personal capacity, “since the inherently public nature of the Internet means that anything you publish online may be read by anyone and could be linked back to your status as a barrister”.
It continued: “Remember that you are bound by Core Duty 5 not to behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or the profession at all times [the BSB’s emphasis].
“Unregistered barristers should also bear this guidance in mind when using social media; as members of the profession, they are expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner and are also subject to certain core duties and other rules.”
The guidance cautioned that comments designed to “demean or insult” were likely to diminish public trust and confidence in the profession.
“It is also advisable to avoid getting drawn into heated debates or arguments. Such behaviour could compromise the requirements for barristers to act with honesty and integrity (CD3) and not to unlawfully discriminate against any person (CD8).
“You should always take care to consider the content and tone of what you are posting or sharing. Comments that you reasonably consider to be in good taste may be considered distasteful or offensive by others.”